Critique and Analysis of a Game
Title: Pokémon X and Pokémon Y
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak
Release: October 2013, Worldwide simultaneous release
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y mark the start of the sixth generation of Pokémon main series games, and contain the largest aesthetic changes to the main series to date.
The core gameplay mechanics remain the same as always, with the young player character setting out on a journey of self-discovery, traveling on a route leading through all the towns in the game region. The player is assigned the same primary goal as all main series Pokémon games, which is to fill the Pokédex, an electronic data archive of Pokémon. The player accomplishes this by finding and capturing wild Pokémon. Along the way, the player is required and expected to hone their skills as a Pokémon trainer, by engaging other trainers in battle using teams of up to six Pokémon at a time. Any additional Pokémon caught are sent to a storage device and can be accessed in towns.
Pokémon X and Y maintains the goals and themes that made previous Pokémon main series games successful, and manages to add new features that decisively improve the franchise without disrupting the core gameplay loop.
However, when viewed objectively, the complexity and frequency of non-aesthetic changes to the game are on the conservative side. The game also has a number of issues that remain unaddressed, that impact its longevity compared to the previous generation of games (Generation V, Black and White / Black and White 2, particularly the latter). Most notable are the lack of post-game content (content unlocked after completing the compulsory story mode) and the relatively low amount of new Pokémon introduced in Generation VI, a mere 69.
Overall, the game is still a solid addition to the series, and definitely offers the richest aesthetic experience by far. One should be wary, though, of expecting world-shattering changes to the franchise – aside from looking much prettier, it’s still another Pokémon main series game following the same pattern.
The entire core loop of a Pokémon main series game can be deconstructed into several smaller games, layered around a tool that enables all these games to function together in a logical manner.
Pokémon discovery/capture/collection, Pokémon battling, Pokémon breeding, and the actual adventure through the game world, through which the player is presented a story (which is heavily railroaded and offers practically no branching choices).
Through it all, the player is the one to establish their own motive for playing the game. The story driven motivation remains the same across all main series games (fill the Pokédex, become a great Pokémon trainer and defeat the Pokémon Champion), and is woefully thin by RPG standards. However, the gameplay itself is solid enough that it can stand alone without any semblance of story to support it, and the trading and competitive elements of the game allow it to last long after the story mode has been completed, assuming the player takes up one or both of the optional goals to complete the Pokédex or become a skilled Pokémon trainer.
As mentioned already, Pokémon X and Y do not break this established formula, instead playing it safe and adding features around this well-honed core loop.
3D graphics (as peculiar as this sounds on a “new features” list)
Pokémon is a thriving franchise with many spinoff games, but for the first time among the main series Pokémon games (churned out since 1996), Pokémon X and Y are presented in full 3D graphics, with situational support for the stereoscopic 3D projection used by the 3DS hardware.
Pokémon main series Generations I, II, III and IV were entirely sprite based, and Generation V overlaid sprites on a pseudo-3D overworld while retaining the camera perspectives and sprite based Pokémon battle system. Only in the end of 2013 with Pokémon X and Y, Generation VI, surprisingly late compared to countless game franchises, did Pokémon adopt an entirely 3D mode of presentation.
There are two sides to this feature.
First, this evolution was a logical step forward, affording increased immersion and believability to the franchise by bringing the titular Pocket Monsters to “life”. Prior instalments primarily depicted Pokémon as largely static sprites, with a few instances of simple 2-3 frame animation cycles. Now, Pokémon move fluidly and have several different patterns for their attacks (eg. using a fist or leg to attack, emitting a beam or particle from the mouth or mouths, extending a tentacle, using a wing, using a claw, and so on). Additionally, there exists a minigame where one can pet and play with their Pokémon, receiving happy reactions in return (or displeased reactions if the player isn’t careful).
However, this aesthetic change had some drawbacks. Compared to creating a single sprite per Pokémon, the transition to 3D required a great deal more work on the assets side to animate and rig the now 718-strong list of Pokémon. Additionally, all of the Pokémon are lovingly rendered, with unique and varied reactions to different game situations. The vastly differing body shapes of Pokémon present the need for multiple rigging skeletons – while there are many bipeds and quadrupeds, there are also Pokémon with varying numbers of tentacles, extra arms or heads, or even multiple torsos. On top of this, the player avatars are now customizable, and can have many different gender-specific clothing options (albeit some being palette swaps) which show up in both full scale and miniature modes.
This gargantuan effort, combined with the relatively short development period for a main series Pokémon game, resulted in world and character asset creation taking up a disproportionate amount of development time. Due to this, there was a relatively small number of new Pokémon added in Generation VI (a mere 69) and the post-game content is seriously lacking in quantity.
Additionally, several portions of the game which attempt to push the envelope by placing the player in a complicated 3D environment suffer greatly from poor camera angles. The games use a form of Rail Camera that automatically adjusts as the player enters each section of an area, in order to provide a preset view. In certain areas, the player can also swing the camera around the player avatar to “look around”, but cannot choose to pan the camera up or down.
In the most troublesome spots, the camera would be positioned in a very tight over-the-shoulder chase view which gave a restricted field of vision that made navigation difficult.
Thankfully, the areas in which this happens are few – though to play the devil’s advocate, the most important geographical location in the game is a hotspot for these issues.
Fairy typing – an attempt to balance the metagame
Pokémon essentially works off a complex Rock Paper Scissors matchup system. Individual Pokémon have one or two elemental types, which perform well against some types and poorly against other types. This affects both the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Pokémon, and need not be two-way. For example, an attack of the Ground type is unable to damage a Pokémon of the Flying type, but this does not mean that an attack of the Flying type will be very effective against a Pokémon of the Ground type.
The initial release of Pokémon Red and Green (Japanese naming) in 1996 contained 16 different types (Normal, Grass, Fire, Water, Electric, Ice, Rock, Ground, Bug, Poison, Psychic, Fighting, Flying, Dragon, Dark, Ghost). This was later expanded to 17 in Generation II with the addition of the Steel type. Generation VI introduced a new type for the first time in many years, the Fairy type.
This was done for balance reasons to counteract an overwhelmingly strong type, the Dragon type, by granting the Fairy type great effectiveness against Dragons, who previously had many strengths but few notable weaknesses. In addition to this, a number of existing Pokémon were modified to become Fairy or part-Fairy type. This balancing act allows more viable Pokémon to challenge the Dragon type, but only if the player chooses to train and incorporate one into their team. This allows additional team building options for players when attempting to counter the Dragon type. The Fairy type also has severe weaknesses to previously underused attacking types, which may lead to an upsurge in these types as a counter to Fairy Pokémon who will inevitably take to the field to counter the ubiquitous Dragons.
In addition, the Steel typing, previously the best defensive type, lost two resistances against Ghost and Dark (while gaining a resistance to Fairy). This changed the effectiveness of certain Pokémon against one another, as well as lowering the previously overwhelming defensive quality of the Steel typing.
In a game about collecting and raising virtual monsters, most Pokémon games lack a way to actually connect with your Pokémon in an emotional sense. Earlier generations attempted this, such as Generation I’s Pokémon Yellow version, where the player character’s Pikachu was able to follow them around, and express its emotion in certain situations. A similar feature was also included in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, this time extended to every Pokémon available at the time. However, these features were experimental and only made their appearances in a single game each.
Generation VI brings back and refines the ability to interact with Pokémon by using the touchscreen of the 3DS unit to allow the player to pet, stroke, feed, and play games with the Pokémon in their team.
Pokémon will express happiness when played with, and have liked and disliked areas when stroked. Each individual Pokémon exhibits different behaviors in Pokémon-amié and it offers an unparalleled insight into how Pokémon behave, a huge step forward from the sprite days where a 5-pixel bounce and a quick left-right-left wobble was as much interaction as you would get from your trusty Pokémon companion.
New battle modes
Each Generation attempts to add additional modes of battle to the game, though these are never used as much as the original mode where teams of up to six Pokémon battle each other in a 1v1 format.
Generation VI adds three such formats to the game.
Sky Battles attempt to simulate air combat, and only Pokémon who are capable of flight (whether or not they are Flying type) can participate. In essence, it’s handled quite poorly as rather than being a new mode of battle, it’s merely an extensive ban list of Pokémon and attacks that are not eligible for use during a Sky Battle.
Horde Battles occur in the wild, and pit the player’s Pokémon against five wild Pokémon simultaneously (who are significantly weaker than Pokémon of the same species encountered singly). Rare Pokémon occasionally appear in the midst of a Horde, and these can only be captured when the other four Pokémon are defeated.
The last new battle mode is the Inverse Battle, which is the most game changing of the three. Under Inverse conditions, all type matchups are inverted. Types that are strong against a certain type are now weak against it, and vice versa. This battle mode offers immense replayability by mixing up all the existing preconceptions about which Pokémon is of great effectiveness against another Pokémon. However, Game Freak really dropped the ball by making Inverse mode only available in one specific small house in the entire game, and further more only once every 24 hours.
Streamlined social features
One of Generation VI’s strongest features is the PSS, or Player Search System. This allows a 3DS with an internet connection to seamlessly and quickly establish contact with players across the world, allowing Pokémon trading, battle, or just basic communication between players.
Previous games required the player to be in certain special areas of the game to access online networking functions, and allowed fewer players to simultaneously connect at once. These restrictions were mostly lifted by Pokémon X and Y, in no small part thanks to the capabilities of the 3DS. Furthermore, the worldwide global release and the compatibility of all language versions of Pokémon X and Y with one another mean that players across the globe can now connect through the game with far greater convenience than ever before.